For the aficionado of dark, twisty television, 2011 was a banner year. From “Game of Thrones” to “American Horror Story” to “The Walking Dead,” there were bad guys aplenty and even a gloriously evil woman or two (Jessica Lange, Madeline Stowe). Though we can’t exactly identify with these diabolical dudes, we can appreciate them—even (inexplicably) root for them, despite everything our instincts scream out. Here are the best of the worst.
*Note: There be spoilers ahead.
5. Dexter Morgan, “Dexter”:
As bizarre as it seems, most of the time Dexter—the serial killer—is the most interesting and likable character on the show (that’s certainly a testament to Michael C. Hall). We might not be able to condone his killing, but his victims are justly chosen and since he’s surrounded by idiots, morons and despicable people alike, it’s easy to find ourselves rooting for our antihero’s traumatized soul. As he teeters on the balancing wire of monster and father, Dexter deftly analyzes his motivations as well as any psychiatrist; he feels remorse if he makes a mistake. If I found out my own brother was a murderer, would that he were Dexter.
4. Nick Brody, “Homeland”:
After being held as a POW for eight years, Sergeant Nick Brody returned home with a mission: “Blood makes the grass grow, kill kill kill!” Though his plan was temporarily foiled by an emotional phone call with his daughter, Brody was prepared to take out the U.S. Vice President—along with other high ranking government officials—and would have done so if not for a device malfunction. Having slammed the final nail in Agent Mathison’s career coffin, Brody put his ill-placed (and traumatically influenced) sympathies with his captors ahead of his family, friends and country, murdering his colleague and former friend to prove his loyalty. Still, at the end of the exhilarating first season of “Homeland,” we can’t help feeling hopeful that Brody will turn around again, to play for the home team and be a “good guy.”
3. Walter White, “Breaking Bad”:
With each season of “Breaking Bad” that passes, Walter White grows more self-centered and less likable. This man for whom we once felt compassion and understanding has been taken over by a dark arrogance that will surely destroy him before cancer gets a chance. The family he sought to protect and leave well taken care of has taken a back seat to Walt’s burgeoning ego…but still, we couldn’t help but cheer as we watched his brilliant plan unfold.
2. Nucky Thompson, “Boardwalk Empire”:
As oddly appealing as Steve Buscemi’s own charm is mobster, master manipulator and murderer, Nucky Thompson. Regardless of the evil he does, there’s something about him—an ugly duckling, underdog-ish soft side—that we see exposed in quiet moments by himself or when he’s around children. Though he’s conniving and cold (marrying Margaret to save his own skin, killing Jimmy), we inexplicably want Nucky to keep clawing his way to the top.
1. Tom Kane, “Boss”:
Jesopus, is this guy despicable; he’ll destroy anyone and everyone who gets in his way and use any method to get ahead in the political game (including sacrificing his wife and daughter). A corrupt mayor who is harsh and cruel; Kane berates his underlings, mentally and physically abusing whomever is so unlucky to be in his path and yet, somehow we still find sympathy for him. Diagnosed with a terrifyingly, quick-moving debilitating disease that causes Alzheimers-like dementia, along with neurological issues that manifest with tremors or moments of immobility, Kane sobs in private and suffers alone as he feels his mind and body betray him. In between being horrified by his every word and action, we find ourselves wishing he’ll find some miracle cure…so he can carry on perpetuating his particular brand of evil?
You wouldn’t want to meet Cindy Davis in a dark alley.